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MGM lion born in Dublin, and other curiosities

THE first traffic lights in Dublin were installed at the junction of Merrion Square and Clare Street, on August 27, 1937, and the first parking meter on Wellington Quay on January 14, 1970.

These facts, and many more, can be gleaned from The Little Book of Dublin, published last week.

Did you know that the Union Jack, that great symbol of Britishness, was first flown not in England but over Dublin, on January 1, 1801, to celebrate the Act of Union? The Irish Rugby Football Union were so attached to it that they flew the Union Jack and not the tricolour at all matches until 1932, when the President of the Executive Council, William T Cosgrave, intervened.

The weather and the cab drivers haven't changed much. According to Wakeman's Guide to Ireland (1890), a tourist asked a cab driver what the three statues on the top of the GPO represented. He was told the 12 apostles. When he inquired about the other nine he was informed, "With weather like this they only come out three at a time, takin' their turns regular."

Tom Galvin also explains the mystery of the numbers of Dublin buses. They follow the system used in the days of the horse-drawn tram, which ran from the city centre outwards in a clockwise direction from south to north.

The Normans were the first spec builders in Dublin, building Dublin Castle (completed in 1230) and others in Castleknock, Drimnagh, Dalkey and Clondalkin, as well as the first bridge over the Liffey, at the site of the present Fr Mathew Bridge, in 1215.

While the current city fathers have problems with an estimated 3,000 roaming horses in the greater Dublin area, in medieval Dublin stray pigs were a cause of anxiety. In 1454 all Irish were banned from the walled city and those who were left colonised what became Irishtown.

Dublin Zoo got its first pair of lions in 1855, and when food supplies dwindled during the 1916 Rising the lions were fed while other animals had to suffer the hunger. On March 20, 1927, the lion Cairbre was born in Dublin, and went on to international fame in the logo of MGM film studios. The famous Halfpenny Bridge opened in 1816 and continued to charge people crossing the Liffey a toll until March 25, 1919. In 1972, Dr Dermot Ryan became the first Archbishop of Dublin since the Reformation to attend a service in Christ Church Cathedral.

We learn that, at 205 feet, the Wellington Monument in the Phoenix Park is the tallest obelisk in Europe. And that when the Bank of Ireland built its new HQ in Baggot Street, the quantity of bronze manganese used was so great that it affected the worldwide price of the product.

Dublin street names are a wealthy source of anecdote. Frederick Street was named after the eldest son of George II, the only member of the British royal family to be killed by a cricket ball. Mountjoy Square is the only real square in Dublin, measuring 600 feet in length and width. Other little-known facts to argue about are that the Boot Inn at Cloghran is the oldest pub (1593), rather than the Brazen Head (present building dated 1710); that the Dublin-born art director Cedric Gibbons designed the Oscar statuette, and that the bugle blown to launch the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade was sold by McNeill's music shop of Capel Street.

'The Little Book of Dublin' by Tom Galvin (New Island)